After allowing four unanswered Canucks goals in a humiliating third period on home ice Wednesday night, the Flames needed to come back with some semblance of a 60-minute effort tonight in Minnesota, not to mention allowing less than seven goals. While they didn't dominate the Wild by any means, they were the better team tonight in a 3-2 shootout victory at the Excel Energy Center, limiting the Wild to just ten shots in the final forty minutes of play.
After a scoreless first period in which the Flames were the beneficiaries of three consecutive powerplays, the Wild took the lead just over seven minutes into the middle frame when Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored his first of the season in just his second game since returning from injury. The visitors would tie it up late with just over thirty seconds left in the period when Mark Giordano, sporting a fancy new cage, scored on a second-effort on a two-on-one of sorts with Niklas Hagman. Shots would end up 8-6 for the Flames in the second, but the chance count ended up 6-3 in favour of the Wild.
The visitors actually took the lead just under five minutes into the third when Alex Tanguay, the recipient of a nice pass from Matt Stajan, snuck into the slot alone, putting a wrist shot past Nicklas Backstrom. The Flames looked to be in the clear in the second half of the period, having limited the Wild to just three shots, before Flame killer Martin Havlat struck. After scooping up Mark Giordano's soft dump in attempt, Havlat skated out in front of the Flames defenceman, caught Robyn Regehr daydreaming in front of the Flames' net and out-waited Henrik Karlsson to tie the game at two. The rest of the period was somewhat back and forth, with both teams spending some time in the offensive zone. Chances were tied at five a side, despite the fact that the Flames outshot the Wild 9-4.
The Flames were the better team in the overtime period, recording two scoring chances including an Alex Tanguay breakaway off a sweet feed from Jay Bouwmeester, but couldn't convert, and the game would go to a shootout. After Tanguay scored on the Flames' first attempt, Henrik Karlsson stood tall (no pun intended) for the Flames in his second consecutive shootout appearance, stopping both Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Patrick O'Sullivan tied things up for the Wild when he roofed a shot on the 6"5 'tender, but Rene Bourque replied with his second straight shootout winner for the Flames, sealing the two points for the visitors.
Much like the Flames' last win over the Wild, they weren't dominant throughout, but played a solid, consistent game, a rarity with anyone but Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes, limiting them to 22 shots on net when they had fired over 30 at opposing goalkeepers in each of their past two games. The Wild are a team that plays patient, cautious hockey and then takes advantage of their chances and any mistakes the opposition makes, and aside from the third period blunder on the Havlat goal, the Flames did a good job of not playing into that, especially when the score was tied.
The fact that Mikael Backlund played just under eight minutes in total tonight has some speculating that he could be the odd man out once Ales Kotalik returns to action. The rookie has been putting up some nice underlying numbers as of late against some tougher competition, but hasn't been producing on the scoreboard. If he does get bumped down the depth chart, he might benefit from a stint in Abbotsford, especially since the Heat are once again riddled with injuries. Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay played over 20 minutes each and both had one point and fired three shots on net despite finishing in the red in both scoring chances and Corsi while facing Koivu's line.
Despite Giordano's goal and his badass cage, Jay Bouwmeester was by far the Flames' best defender tonight. In the twenty-five minutes plus the shootout that I actually caught tonight, he was instrumental in keeping plays alive in the offensive zone on several occasions, keeping the puck in at the blueline, and did a great job of forcing the Wild forwards into less dangerous scoring areas in his own zone. He set up what could have been the game-winner in overtime with his breakaway feed to Alex Tanguay, and barely left the ice in the extra frame, playing a whopping 33:45 including 5:00 on the penalty kill--which the Flames spent comparatively little time on this evening, making four trips to the sin bin.
The visitors were perfect on the PK tonight (although Karlsson had to stop just three Wild shots with the extra man), a welcome change from the three powerplay goals against in Wednesday's loss to the Canucks. Calgary's powerplay continues to struggle, however, with just one goal in its past seven games. They had only four shots on four opportunities with the man advantage tonight--which, as far as I'm aware, did include some forwards.
The Flames are off tomorrow before taking on the Blackhawks at the United Centre on Sunday. Calgary finally snapped their lengthy losing streak against the 'Hawks with a 7-2 win at home back on November 19th, but has yet to do the same in the Windy City.